The past two week’s blogs have discussed the fact some churches are considering eliminating their Sports Outreach due to financial pressures and because they haven’t seen the results hoped for:
This week’s blog will continue this discussion by exposing two myths associated with evangelism: a) preaching = evangelism and b) sports evangelism is about giving ‘high profile athletes” a “platform” for speaking. Ensuing weeks will analyze the commitment needed to do the hard work of evangelism and also discuss how to maximize a church’s Sports Outreach missional opportunities for church growth and evangelism
I. Myth #1 – Preaching = Evangelism
I was consulting with a leading church…
The Lead Pastor was emphatic…“Evangelism can only come through the preaching of the Word. Let’s have none of this ‘tom-foolery’ about gym evangelism!”
“Pastor...” I paused and said a prayer for just the right words and for them to find a receptive heart. “The problem is…most people who need to hear your evangelistic preaching won’t ever step inside your sanctuary. Sports Outreach provides you with a proven strategy to actually get people who are far from God into your sanctuary, so they may hear your evangelistic preaching. I’m offering you the best tool the church currently has to attract and reach totally secularized, non-churched, non-believers. In addition it is a methodology that mobilizes and enables your parishioners to reach their non-churched friends by inviting them to a sports function within your church walls…an activity even those far from God will receive with enthusiasm.”
A few years later I was talking with a disheartened Sports Outreach Pastor. He was expressing his frustration with the ineffectiveness of his Sports Outreach. I asked him what he believed to be the answer to the ineffectiveness.
“We need to preach harder in our post game devotionals; we need to preach with more enthusiasm” was his response. Upon further reflection it became clear the real problem was this good man and his team of staff and volunteers had become lazy. They had stopped doing the hard work of evangelism that included building bridges to the secular community and providing relevant and missional sport and recreational outreach activities that would attract and hold those far from God.
Both of these deeply spiritual men believed a myth: preaching equals evangelism. Please hear me…I firmly believe in evangelistic preaching but evangelistic preaching is only one – albeit a most important – part of evangelism. In fact, I believe “preaching harder” is actually easier than doing the hard work of evangelism. Preaching harder may alleviate a certain guilt but it becomes the “crutch” many local church Sports Outreach Ministers fall back on when they are experiencing a lack of effectiveness born of a lack of true evangelistic endeavors.
True evangelism involves a multi-faceted process that includes years of soil preparation, seed planting, cultivation and reaping. True evangelism consists of consistent, long-term work and it takes much planning, envisioning, training and mobilizing. True evangelism is what Sports Outreach Ministry offers the local church. True evangelism through sport and recreation produces much better results than the commonplace activity of “fruit stealing” which often masquerades as evangelism. I agree, excellent expository preaching attracts throngs of people but the vast majority of newcomers expository preaching attracts to a church are already Christians who come from anemic churches with weak preaching. I applaud any church that supports solid expository, exegetical and evangelistic preaching but I would exhort them not to confuse church growth occurring via “transfers” from other churches with true evangelism.
A. Evangelism as Process
When properly understood and implemented, Sports Outreach provides the local church with the most effective and relevant strategy for reaching the truly secularized, non-believer. Last week’s blog articulated a systematic model for organizing a self perpetuating and on-going missional Sports Outreach Ministry for a local church. ( http://www.facebook.com/notes/csrm/trends-in-local-church-sports-outreach/249409495114022 ) This model makes apparent how intricate and intense true evangelistic endeavors can be. They are not necessarily difficult, but they do demand a high level of commitment. It is important to understand true missional evangelism is reaching those far from Christ and reaching those far from Christ requires both understanding what the process is and how it should take place within a local church. Strong evangelistic preaching is a must but much more is also needed.
II. Myth #2 - Sports Outreach Ministries and High Profile Athletes – A New Paradigm is needed…
Providing a platform for elite athletes to share their testimony has been a mainstay of Sports Outreach for more than half a century. There was much to like about this methodology. It was fairly simple…connect with an elite athlete and enable them to share their testimony through a microphone, video or via a written article or book. Technological advances provide an ever expanding ability to communicate athlete’s testimonies through websites, you tube and many other social networks.
The current trend however is quickly moving away from personality driven evangelism. There are a myriad of reasons for this, but two are especially poignant: a) very few elite athletes actually live a Christian lifestyle and thus have little credibility for what they verbally “profess:” b) society is more and more cynical about high profile athletics due to the obscene salaries of both players and owners. Add in all the scandals and criminal involvements of players and coaches at the professional and collegiate levels and it’s easy to see why the effectiveness of this methodology is wavering. This is why the methodology of local church Sports Evangelism is the future paradigm of Sports Outreach Ministry.
Local church Sports Outreach doesn’t depend upon the integrity (or more accurately the lack of integrity) of high profile athletes, nor does it depend upon a “big event” that is a “once and done” activity. Rather, local church Sports Outreach is based upon the Theological premise of “Incarnational Evangelism.” This “Incarnational” premise leads churches to implement ministries based upon the philosophy of creating missional environments for the initiation and development of relationships between Christ-followers and people with a secular world view. Understanding that evangelism is a process, not an event, leads churches to develop relevant, ongoing, sporting opportunities such as youth and adult leagues and, recreational activities such as bird watching, bicycling, crafting and card clubs. Effective churches know evangelism is a process rather than an event, and evangelistic success is not getting a person to make a short term decision but rather to seek to make long-term disciples of Christ.
This is not to say a church will never utilize the “platform” of a “high profile” athlete and it certainly doesn’t mean a church will never stage a “big event.” Rather, it demonstrates truly effective Sports Outreach is rooted in long-term relational/Incarnational sports-based activities which occasionally use an elite athlete’s testimony at a “big event.” The key difference is the “event” is run in conjunction with, and upon the back of an ongoing relational Sports Ministry.
Evangelism rarely happens in a traditional Sunday morning church service because those who are far from Christ are also far from ever attending a church service. Churches need to continue to preach evangelistically but in addition they need to develop outreaches designed to funnel secular people into those services. It is a myth to believe all a church has to do is hire and support a preacher who preaches evangelistically.
It is also a myth that local church Sports Outreach Ministries need to “preach harder” in their sports based activities. They need to do the hard work of ensuring their activities are relevant, their volunteers trained and equipped, and most importantly they are to build ongoing, Incarnational based outreaches rather than relying upon a “once and done” big event which features a high profile athlete. This would include building one bridge to their community and a second bridge from their Sports Outreach activities to the heart of their church where the Word of Christ is preached evangelistically where disciples are made but this is the topic of next week’s blog….
Dr. Greg Linville was one of the founding members of CSRM and has served as the Executive Director since 2000. He served for 15 years as a local church sports and recreation minister and coached over 30 years at the junior high, high school and collegiate levels as well as 30 years in rec. leagues. Dr. Linville has consulted with churches from Australia, Africa, Asia, Australia, Caribbean, Europe, New Zealand and North America. He was awarded the world's first honorary Doctorate in Sports Ministry and holds an earned Doctorate as well. He is the author of Christmanship: The Theology of Competition & Sport. Dr. Greg has been married for over 35 years, is the father of two married children and the grandfather of a growing number of grandchildren.